YORKTOWN, N.Y. - The Town Board is exploring a proposal by Councilmen Ed Lachterman and Tom Diana to determine the wishes of Yorktown’s electorate in regard to a resolution to repudiate the recently enacted state Reproductive Health Act.
Its decision followed a frequently raucous regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at which about a dozen residents had their say on the law, which is said to provide one of the nation’s strongest protections for abortion rights. Outside town hall, prior to the meeting, a rally was held in support of the Reproductive Health Act.
Some at the meeting declared the law “ungodly,” “barbaric” and “immoral.” Others, rather than speak for or against it, focused on why the law was being discussed in such a local public forum at all. One spoke to what she said she felt were “misperceptions” that had been bandied at the board’s previous meeting, on Feb. 5, when former Town Supervisor Michael Grace called on the governing body to repudiate it in a resolution to send to Albany.
And Grace was drawn into the line of fire for doing so.
Saying she disagreed with opponents of the act, Maura Gregory, the first to speak during courtesy of the floor, questioned the “concept that this space, Town Board meetings, is the place for these debates.”
“I think this idea began under the previous administration when the immigration debate found its way into a surprise resolution, although this board has no power to act on that,” Gregory said, referring the Town Board’s support of the then-Westchester County executive’s veto of the Immigration Protection Act when Republicans held a 4-1 majority on the board. “And now the same individual who introduced that appears to be trying to bring this approach back.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the RHA into law on Jan. 22 in an effort, legislators said, to safeguard the rights conferred by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade 46 years before.
Regina Reilly said she was there to ask that “this resolution be put on the docket [so the act] could be seen as the horrible thing it is.”
“I believe you have an absolute moral imperative here to get this as a resolution and to make sure this goes on the record as being an ungodly, cruel and barbaric law,” she said.
Celeste Tice, who said she was a town resident and a representative of Choice Matters, asked the board to not entertain any resolution on the RHA, and corrected what she said she believed were “mischaracterizations or perhaps just misunderstandings of the law.”
Speaking to those women who may benefit from the RHA, she said, “The exceedingly rare instance of abortion after the 24-week mark are highly personal and tragic situations, not instances where women just change their minds about having a baby. Prior to the RHA, women in these heart-wrenching situations had to leave New York State in order to receive the care they needed.”
Kevin Murphy, on the other hand, answered the question some asked about why the board was being asked to pass the resolution, saying, “You’re our first line of representatives. That’s the reason.”
But Sherri Hughes, who identified herself as an attorney, countered, “I am sitting here incredulous that such an issue that is so volatile, so divisive, so split in this entire country that the people of Yorktown would even think that you as a body should come down and make a decision.” She argued, “This was not an issue in this community at all until Michael Grace chose to stand up here and throw his hat in the ring to be supervisor of Yorktown. This was never an issue and he should be ashamed of himself.”
During a work session following the regular meeting, board members voiced their concerns and spoke about their individual beliefs.
“I have a problem with our legislators deciding on the definition of life,” Lachterman said. “I understand that there are times for abortion, whether you agree or not, there are times that it’s there.” However, he said, “To me this is a step in the wrong direction, on the dehumanizing of life, the redefining of life.”
Before speaking, Roker stood and walked to the microphone and faced both the board and the audience.
“I just want to tell you, when you start talking about removing rights, look at me. Look at who I am. So let that be your guide,” she began. “There are many people who look like me whose rights have been removed. So when we start going down that slope, I’ve got to say, ‘Hold it.’ “
Referring to Grace’s recitation of a scripture on Feb. 5, Roker said, “I live my life based on the letter from Paul to the Philippians, who said, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’…I’ve also based my life based on Matthew, which tells me that I can’t judge someone unless I want to be judged.”
Roker said that when she ran for the Town Board, she did not convey the same information she might have had she been seeking election on the state or national levels. Ultimately, she said, “I don’t believe I have the right to send a letter to Albany saying this is the way my community feels, because, bottom line, there are 33,000 people in this community…When you gave me this job, you did not ask me what my opinion on abortion was.”
Gilbert also weighed his words.
“I believe asking this board to take action in a form of a resolution serves no legal purpose and will only unnecessarily divide our town. When elected, I indicated, I believe, one of my goals was to change the tone of government, its discourse, and fight the forces that are dividing us. I’ve been working tirelessly to address critical items…that we face and what we are charged to act upon, and I believe abortion is not one of those issues.”